Exploring Young Adult Comfort with Oral Health Care Providers' Discussions Related to HPV: A mixed methods study

J Dent Hyg. 2022 Oct;96(5):23-36.


Purpose: Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most prevalent sexually transmitted infection in the United States and oral healthcare providers (OHPs) have become increasingly focused on preventing oral health outcomes related to HPV through screening for oral cancer and recommending HPV vaccination. The purpose of this study was to explore the comfort of having HPV-related discussions with OHPs among a college-age population.Methods: Students enrolled in an introductory-level, personal health class at a large, public, mid-Atlantic institution were invited to participate in an anonymous survey. Ten items related to participant's perceptions of HPV discussions with an OHP were part of a larger 100 item online survey designed to measure various aspects of college student health. Comfort with an OHPs' discussion of various health issues (including oral cancer, the relationship between oral cancer and HPV, and HPV vaccination) was measured on a 5-point scale with follow up, open-ended questions. Descriptive statistics were used to analyze the data; thematic coding was used to analyze the open-ended items.Results: A total of 3,236 students were invited to participate during the two data collection waves; 2,198 surveys were fully completed, representing a 67.9% response rate. Participants reported having the greatest level of comfort discussing oral health prevention behaviors such as tooth brushing and flossing and the least comfort discussing HPV-related topics with OHPs. Among those expressing low levels of comfort, qualitative responses highlighted participants limited knowledge related to HPV and the HPV vaccination along with the belief that these discussions were better suited for physicians.Conclusions: Results from this study demonstrated that college-age students may be uncomfortable with HPV-related discussions in a dental care setting. However, given the relationship between HPV infection and poor oral health outcomes, it is important that this population be informed about the oral-systemic HPV relationship and of the HPV vaccination as means for primary prevention. These findings highlight the need to address the public's perceptions regarding the role that OHPs play in educating the public about oral-systemic health.

Keywords: HPV vaccinations; dental hygienists; human papillomavirus; oral health care providers; oral-systemic health; public health.

MeSH terms

  • Alphapapillomavirus*
  • Dentist-Patient Relations*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Health Personnel
  • Humans
  • Mouth Neoplasms* / diagnosis
  • Mouth Neoplasms* / prevention & control
  • Papillomaviridae
  • Papillomavirus Infections* / prevention & control
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States
  • Young Adult